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The Harlequin Duck in Gaspésie, Canada

Harlequin duck in Gaspésie, Canada. Photo by Thibaut Rivière.

Harlequin duck in Gaspésie, Canada. Photo by Thibaut Rivière.

The Harlequin duck is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating ducks in the world, both by its plumage and its environment. While the female is generally brown like most other species of ducks, the male has an amazing plumage. Like a painting, his body is slate-blue, punctuated by white and black patches of different shapes and the flanks are red. The white, delicate spots are reminiscent of the brush stroke as the precision of the lines is obvious. In spite of its precious aspect, this diving duck is strongly attached to agitated waters. He spends much of his life on the coast. During the breeding season in May, he joins torrential streams where he will find a place to install his nest, either in a hollow tree, a cornice, or on the ground, in the rocks. The Harlequin duck is a Nordic bird, found mainly in the Western Hemisphere. Quebec, and more specifically Gaspésie, is a favorite spot for the Harlequin Duck. Its northern environments and coastal reef areas are abundant in food. Territorial rivers, especially in the Gaspésie National Park, also offer very good places to nest.

In the field, the species does not seem very shy. It is relatively easy to approach, like many northern species. When resting, it is easily observed on the rocks and reefs of the coast, especially on the north coast of Gaspésie. It is much more discreet during nesting season. Watching him dive between the waves to find his food, showing the beauty of his plumage from all angles is something memorable.

However, the species requires special attention. Even if the populations are doing rather well in Gaspésie and despite its status as "minor concern" at the global level, global warming could disrupt the reproduction of the species according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List. Increasing temperatures would affect migration of the species between breeding and wintering areas, which could have an impact on reproductive decision-making. This is reflected in particular by a lag time spawning, premature hatching chicks and therefore a shift with the availability of food. This situation could also have an impact on the move of species towards more northerly areas, thus modifying the potential of new territories and the geographical distribution of the species.

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